Give Us Something to Go On
Several years ago I was working with a group of managers and their direct reports for a company in Chicago and one of the guys in the session filled with the direct reports told me he was angry that he had received a bonus. As you might have been, I was a little surprised to hear this, so I dug a little deeper. The company had been through some turmoil, stock prices were down, and layoffs were rampant. Morale was terrible. This guy had spent every day at work for the past year terrified that he would be next on the chopping block. He was a high achiever and cared deeply about doing a good job, but until the mysterious bonus check showed up, he had had no idea that his boss was actually happy with his performance.
Since I was also working with his manager, I could easily see how this could have happened. The manager was a young guy – probably mid 30’s – and showed very little expression. His face was completely blank most of the time, making it impossible to read what he was thinking and feeling. I knew him to be a thoughtful, intellectually curious, and caring guy, but only because I had spent six months looking for it in class. Unless I really looked – with the expectation to find it – it was hard to know it was there. His mask was almost impenetrable.
In today’s world, it’s easy to see how this happens. We’ve become such a passive-listening world. We watch TV and movies, navigate the internet, and communicate via email, on Facebook, and through texting without having to reveal any of our emotions on our face. Why would we ever need to, when we have emoticons we can simply paste into our messages? LOL. haha.
The problem is, this lack of real expression can kill our results.
Going back to my story about the high achiever who was grumpy about his bonus… When high achievers can see that their achievement is noticed and appreciated, what do they often do? Yep. Achieve more! And even if your high achievers don’t have a recognition need, by showing that you see what they’re doing and appreciate it – that you care – others on the team (who might have a recognition need) are watching. If your job as a leader is to ensure that people bring their best to their work to get results, what makes the most sense?
And often the mask is on the other face, with employees leaving leaders wondering what they think and feel. The boss is left to assume that the lack of expression must mean one thing – that they don’t care. And how much do we invest in people if we think they don’t care?
What I’ve come to learn, is that people care much more than we realize. We all do. But we’ve got to give the world more to go on. We may think it cool, or strangely strategic. or that we’re playing it safe by not showing all our cards, but in truth, there’s nothing riskier.
©OnStage Leadership, 2013
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